A game of Russian poulette

It was the ultimate cultural exchange, a Cordon Bleu cook sent to Moscow to pass trade secrets to the Russians. Her mission? To make five amazing dishes from a single scrawny chicken. Deborah Antel managed to do just that

IT WASN'T so much a case of Russian roulette as Russian poulette. The odds on losing your life from eating a piece of chicken didn't seem vastly different from putting a loaded gun to your temple and firing. That, at least, was the view of Deborah Antel - the first Westerner to give a cooking demonstration at the Moscow Culinary Institute.

Food hygiene is not a concept taught there, or even understood - though this was by no means the biggest problem. Before you could get food poisoning, you had to find the food. And then you had to cook it using equipment which should have been consigned to the scrapheap with the Czars.

Deborah Antel is not a cookery teacher, but she has all the skills that represent the cutting edge of modern cosmopolitan cooking in the West. She is a London-American (of French and Lithuanian extraction) who trained at London's French-owned Le Cordon Bleu Cookery School; she worked in London's best regional Italian restaurant, The River Cafe, before becoming assistant to the Swiss-born TV chef Anton Mosimann. Deborah's Russian connection is her American husband, Scott Antel, a solicitor now working for an international tax accountantcy firm in Moscow.

Observing that the West was making inroads into Russian food culture, Scott volunteered his wife to give a demonstration at the capital's oldest cookery school. It is hard to say who felt the greater culture shock, Mrs Antel or the Russians.

So here is the improving story of how a solitary Russian chicken was turned into five amazing dishes; an avgolemono soup, from stock made with the bones; breast of chicken, stuffed with a chicken mousse, poached; the other breast, smoked over jasmine tea, to be served cold in a salad; one leg of chicken, with a yoghurt cream sauce, spiced apple and cumin; the other leg, stuffed with mushrooms and nuts, roasted; and chicken sausages, made from the chicken mousse, wrapped in clingfilm and poached.

"It was very ambitious," says Deborah Antel. "The Russians have basically two ways of cooking chicken; boiling it to death or roasting it to death."

Prior to the demonstration, she makes a perfunctory review of Russian eating. Local restaurants which offer a limited range of dishes, usually boiled meat with boiled cabbage, are being cheerfully passed over for the new delights of McDonald's, Pizza Hut (no Kentucky Fried Chicken yet) and Tex-Mex outlets. Sandwich bars are regarded as a completely new and very exciting food trend, with thriving home delivery services.

Classic Russian food does live on, preserved in aspic in more than one sense. Mrs Antel is taken to the hugely expensive Metropole Hotel to wonder at over-elaborate set-pieces that evoke the hotels splendides of the 1930s, with butter sculptures, and whole sturgeon shining in aspic; indeed everything is covered with aspic, the pates and mousses, bowls of jellied meats and fish. Even the borscht, the classic Russian beetroot soup, is jellied. "It was all done very well," she says, "but it was like being in a time- warp. It looks magnificent, yet by our standards food like this is horrible to eat."

Apprehension sets in; it's the day before her demonstration. She makes her first visit to the culinary school, to see what she is going to need (an aspirin? Valium?). The principal, a large, homely and kindly lady in her fifties, conducts Deborah Antel to the Napoleonic kitchens. The oven is almost large enough to accommodate the 200 students. It has one temperature, not adjustable - very, very hot. The stove top is the other cooking medium, and has one temperature, very, very hot. OK. So, if you can't stand the heat ...

It would have been nice to have found some unfashionable, but wonderful, old copper saucepans. No chance. "All the pans were made of wretched, thin steel, and badly dented. None of them were flat. None of the lids fitted. The knives were terrible. They looked as if they'd fallen off the back of a lorry."

The school has no idea about kitchen hygiene. "Cooked food was piled in stockpots," says Deborah, "and left in the hot kitchen to cool - a sure way to kill people. This is how you breed salmonella and other food poisons."

Where do I wash my hands, she asked? A long way away, a very long way away. There's no water in the kitchen - and even if there was, it would be, well, Russian water. This isn't Deborah's first visit to Moscow. "I've had my fill of sick stomach here. I don't eat anything that might contain water which hasn't been boiled through. That means soups and sauces. I don't drink the water; I don't take ice."

So, she devises a strategy. Rule number one: go in early the next day and boil water, so she can have it sterilised and ready to rinse utensils, and her hands, in between preparation and cooking.

She has been asked to work with Russian ingredients; she soon discovers that jasmine tea, star anise and even fresh cream, are not numbered among them. But a chicken they can get. Hopefully. "I really do need a chicken," she says.

On the day of the demonstration she gets there early, and makes her acquaintance with a very large but skinny chicken. She boils up water and leaves it to cool. In come the cookery school teachers, 15 of them, mostly in their fifties, together with 10 of the more promising students.

They watch with amazement as she unveils her mise-en-place, the carefully prepared vegetables arranged in bowls and saucers as clinically as Anton Mosimann requires in his TV studio. They are no less surprised as she washes her hands, washes the chopping board and, dismembering the chicken into its component parts - bones, breasts, legs, trimmings - continues to wash everything in sight. Is this, perhaps, a religious ritual?

More surprises are in store for the onlookers. Having produced a stock from the bones, Deborah proceeds to skim off all the fat - and chuck it away. This is too much for the principal, peering closely over her half- glasses. She breaks into an expressive and voluble stream of Russian.

Translator: "She is very shocked. She says you are throwing away the best part. All the flavour is in the fat. Also, it is full of goodness."

Deborah: "No, no, no. Fat is very unhealthy: it makes you..." Her eyes take in the plump, rounded forms of her listeners. "Well, you know."

Over the next 312 hours, Deborah produces the five chicken dishes, and for good measure, profiteroles with chocolate sauce. Afterwards the principal talks through some of the Russian dishes. The pupils learn French techniques of sauce-making from reductions of stock, but Deborah shudders to see a soup with quarter of an inch of fat on top of it. "A heart attack on a plate," she breathes.

The best cuisine in the former Russian republics, the principal tells Deborah, comes from Georgia in the temperate south of the country. She describes a leg of lamb, boned and stuffed with nuts and raisins. "It's a wonderful dish," says Deborah, "except she uses half a pound of butter in the stuffing. So I suggested how you could get the same intensity of flavour with herb-seasoned oil mixed with just a little butter."

For the present, Moscow offers only a dispiriting choice between the (Western) new, fast food and the (Tsarist) very old and dated hotel style of cuisine. Until there is an upturn in the economy, we may not encounter good traditional country cooking, such as borscht spiked with sour cream or yoghurt, smoked fish salads, piroshki, little meat pastries, Kotlety a la Kiev (Chicken Kiev) and fruit kisels, poached berries, the juice thickened with potato flour. Below, we present Deborah Antel's version of a borscht, together with five other chicken recipes that she took to Russia, with love.

AVGOLEMONO SOUP WITH CARAMELISED LEMON ZEST

Serves 4

1 litre/134 pints well-flavoured chicken stock, ideally home-made

30g/1oz long-grain rice (rinse well)

2 lemons

15ml/1 tablespoon water

60g/2oz caster sugar

3 medium eggs

juice from the 2 lemons

salt and freshly ground pepper

fresh thyme, or lemon thyme if available

Bring the chicken stock to the boil and add the rice. Cover and cook over a moderate heat until the rice is tender but still slightly crunchy, about 20 minutes. Remove from the heat. Ladle about 250ml/8fl oz of the stock into a bowl, and reserve.

Zest the lemons with a peeler so that you have wide strips. Cut the zest into narrower strips, and reserve to caramelise as described below. Squeeze the juice from the two lemons and reserve.

Blanch the lemon zest in a little boiling water. Remove it from the water and pat dry.

Bring the sugar and water to the boil. Reduce the heat and continue to simmer until the syrup is a light golden colour. Place the zest in the mixture and coat well. Remove with tongs, separate and cool on a wire rack.

Meanwhile, beat the eggs, add the lemon juice to taste and beat together. Season well.

Slowly pour the reserved chicken stock (about one tablespoon at a time) into the mixture and whisk rapidly until all the ingredients are well blended. Add the mixture to the soup, remembering to stir constantly.

Garnish with the caramelised lemon zest and a few leaves of thyme (or lemon thyme). Check the seasoning is right, and serve immediately.

JASMINE-TEA SMOKED CHICKEN BREAST

Serves 4

4 x 125g/4oz chicken breasts

salt

freshly ground black pepper

60g/2oz jasmine tea leaves

15g/12oz Lapsang Souchong tea leaves (optional)

5g/1 teaspoon sugar

30g/1oz plain rice

zest of 1 lemon

30ml/2 tablespoons water

15ml/1 tablespoon olive oil

Remove the skin from the chicken breasts and trim off all the sinew. Season well with salt and freshly ground pepper.

Line a wok with aluminium foil. Place the tea leaves, the sugar, the rice, the lemon zest and a sprinkling of water on the bottom of the wok. Sit a wire grid in the wok.

Brush the chicken breasts with the olive oil and place them on top of the wire grid. Cover the wok firmly and smoke the chicken over a high heat for approximately 8-10 minutes, or until a smoky golden colour is achieved.

Use the smoked chicken with salads and soups (such as the borscht recipe given below), or slice it very thinly and serve with herb-scented aioli or freshly made lemon-caper mayonnaise.

Note: You can use many different varieties of tea for this recipe. I usually blend the teas together to achieve a distinct flavour. This method will also do wonders for many types of fish. Whenever you are smoking food indoors, always make sure that the area is well ventilated.

CHICKEN BORSCHT WITH SMOKED CHICKEN

GARNISH

Serves 4

1 bunch fresh beetroot

1 shallot, peeled and finely diced

salt and freshly ground pepper

1.5 litres/212 pints well-flavoured chicken stock, ideally home-made

15ml/1 tablespoon sherry, or balsamic vinegar

90g/3oz red cabbage, shredded

a pinch of cumin or caraway seeds (optional)

125ml/4fl oz sour cream, at room temperature to avoid curdling

90g/3oz smoked chicken, cut into fine julienne strips (see jasmine tea- smoked chicken recipe above)

fresh dill

12 cucumber, seeded and finely diced

Wash the beets thoroughly and break off the stalks. Remove the leaves from the stalks. Cut the leaves into fine shreds and chop the stalks finely. Trim and shred the main part of the beets. Barely cover the beetroot, the leaves, the stalks and the shallot with cold water. Lightly season with salt and pepper and simmer, uncovered, for about 20 minutes.

Reserve roughly a tablespoon of the shredded beetroot for garnish. Continue to simmer the rest for another 20-25 minutes.

To serve hot: Use the sour cream as a garnish and swirl it on top of the soup. Add several strips of the smoked chicken, some of the reserved beetroot and a few sprigs of dill to each serving, and serve immediately.

To serve cold: Allow the soup to cool down completely after cooking, and be sure that the sour cream is at room temperature. Combine the two and mix well to blend them, and chill well. Garnish as above, adding some of the finely diced cucumber and extra dill if desired. Serve over shaved ice if possible.

Note: For a richer version of this dish, you can add 125ml/4fl oz of heavy cream to both the hot and cold soup if desired. Be sure that the cream is at room temperature if it is being added to hot soup, otherwise it will curdle. This will also increase the quantity of soup available.

STUFFED CHICKEN BREASTS WITH WALNUT SAUCE

Serves 4

4 x 125g/4oz) chicken breasts

salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 small carrot, 1 small onion,1 small stalk of celery, finely diced

a few sprigs of thyme and parsley

chives or spring onions, finely cut

For the chicken mousse:

150g/5oz poultry meat

15g/12oz freshly chopped herbs (parsley, tarragon, thyme, basil, chives or whatever is available)

375ml/12fl oz double cream

1 very small clove of garlic, crushed

1 egg white, whisked to a soft peak

salt, freshly ground pepper, freshly grated nutmeg

For the walnut sauce:

300ml/10fl oz well-flavoured chicken stock

60g/2oz walnuts, roughly chopped

60ml/2fl oz double cream, at room temperature

salt and freshly ground pepper

Remove the skin from the breasts, and trim off all the sinew. Remove the fillet (the small piece of tender meat inside a breast taken from a whole chicken, as opposed to one which is ready- prepared), and add to the mousse below. Butterfly the breasts carefully. Place each on a piece of clingfilm, and gently pound to flatten. Season well.

To make the chicken mousse: Finely mince the meat in a food processor, or by hand. Pass it through a fine sieve. Place the meat, herbs and garlic in a bowl over ice and vigorously mix in the cream, a little at a time. Once the mousse mixture begins to stiffen, stop, as it is ready. Gently fold in the egg white and season with salt, pepper and a little nutmeg. Keep over ice until ready to use.

Using two teaspoons, make a quenelle from the mousse and drop it into a small pan of boiling water. Adjust seasoning to taste.

Place each open breast on a piece of clingfilm large enough to wrap and seal the meat. Pipe the mousse in the centre of each breast and fold over the mousse. Wrap tightly in the clingfilm and gently prick a few tiny holes on top. Repeat with each breast. (Any surplus mousse can be used for other recipes such as chicken sausages; simply pipe it on to a piece of clingfilm, and twist the ends tightly to seal. Prick, and poach as instructed for the breast.)

Add the finely diced vegetables to a saucepan large enough for the four breasts. Fill with 500ml/ 16fl oz of water and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and gently poach the breasts for 20 minutes. They should be firm and springy when done. Remove and carefully unwrap. Slice the meat on an angle so the mousse is slightly exposed.

To make the walnut sauce: Bring the stock to the boil. Reduce the heat and slowly whisk in the cream. Add the walnuts and simmer to reduce by half (reduce further if a thicker sauce is desired). Season, and spoon a little over each chicken breast. Garnish with chives or spring onions.

ROAST CHICKEN LEGS STUFFED WITH MUSHROOMS, WALNUTS AND SPICED APPLE SAUCE

Serves 4

4 chicken legs, thighs removed

1 shallot and 1 garlic clove, peeled and finely chopped

500g/16oz mushrooms, cleaned and finely chopped

salt and freshly ground pepper

15ml/1 tablespoon lemon juice

30g/1oz parsley, finely chopped

90g/3oz walnuts, roughly chopped

10ml/2 teaspoons melted butter, or olive oil (optional)

Pre-heat the oven to 450F/230C. Dry saute the shallot and the garlic in a non-stick pan until they are soft. Add the mushrooms, and season. Stir in the lemon juice and cook until almost dry. The mushrooms will release quite a lot of liquid. Remove from the heat and transfer to a colander to drain. Allow to cool.

Next, add the parsley, the walnuts and the melted butter or olive oil to the mushroom mixture, and stir to bind. Carefully pull the skin back from the chicken legs and remove the leg bones. Season the inside and stuff with the mushroom mixture. Pull the skin over the stuffing and gently reshape. Roast in a hot oven for 15-20 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through and golden in colour. Serve with spiced apple sauce (recipe below). Remove the skin if you wish.

SPICED APPLE SAUCE

Serves 4

4 dessert apples

30g/1oz unsalted butter

Spices: 3 cloves,1 cinnamon stick, pinch of cinnamon, freshly grated nutmeg, 1 star anise

5ml/1 teaspoon lemon juice

15ml/1 tablespoon honey

Peel, core and dice the apples. Heat the butter in a small saucepan and add all of the spices. Heat until their full aroma is released. Add the apples and lemon juice and saute until softened but still firm. Remove 1 tablespoon of apples for garnish. Continue cooking the remaining apples until they are very soft. Remove the spices and drizzle the honey over the apples. Mash gently with the back of a fork. Serve with the stuffed chicken legs and garnish with the reserved apple. !

Arts and Entertainment
Richard E Grant as Simon Bricker and Elizabeth McGovern as Cora, Countess of Grantham
Downton

Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
News
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Comedy
Arts and Entertainment

Review

These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Daenerys Targaryen, played by Emilia Clarke, faces new problems

Sek, k'athjilari! (That’s “yes, definitely” to non-native speakers).

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Polly Morgan

art
Arts and Entertainment
The kid: (from left) Oona, Geraldine, Charlie and Eugene Chaplin

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised

art
Arts and Entertainment

Review: Series 5, episode 4 Downton Abbey
Arts and Entertainment

Music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
    Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

    How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

    'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

    Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

    Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
    Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

    Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

    After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
    Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

    Terry Venables column

    Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
    The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

    Michael Calvin's Inside Word

    Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past